Finding and Buying Your Fruit Bearers

Unlike some annual and perennial flowers and veggies, fruit-bearers are not plants you want to try raising from seed — it takes forever! Not only that, but many fruit bearers do not "come true" (have the traits of their parent plants) from seed. No, for the fastest and most gratifying results, buy plants. Here's my general advice, before delving into the different forms in which you can buy fruit plants:

1 Always buy from a reputable source. Ask around, nose around, and examine the source's guarantee and refund policy. Your local Cooperative Extension Service office may be able to point you toward good nearby sources.

1 Don't bother with bargain-hunting. You get what you pay for.

1 Require a label and/or accurate identification. This label includes not only the type of plant (for example, apple or Northern highbush blueberry) but the also the cultivar ('Mcintosh' or 'Bluecrop,' respectively).

1 Ask or look for some assurance that your choice is "certified" or "virus-tested." Virus-infected plants don't always look diseased, at least not at first. If you skip this step and bring home an infected plant, it'll decline over time, and you may never know why or may think you did something wrong.

1 Check visually for plant health. Both top growth and the root system should be intact and in good condition, showing no signs of damage, rot, galls, or pests.

At local nurseries, buy the largest plants you can find and afford so you can get off to a faster start. Confirm that the plant's well rooted by poking into the soil mix and/or tipping the pot and sliding it out to see for yourself. Favor plants with buds over ones that are already flowering, because the trip home or the transition from pot to garden soil is likely to make them jettison blooms early in favor of establishing their roots in their new home. New buds, flowers, and eventually fruit will come along in due course!

You can also get fruits bareroot. Although a bareroot fruit tree may look like nothing more than a slender branch (a whip) with some roots, you're still concerned with the quality of the root system in particular. Many broken or dried-out roots are not a good sign. You may end up trimming either the top growth or the roots prior to planting (see "Bareroot plants," in the upcoming planting section), but you want to head into the project with a good plant.

With mail-order, though, my main advice is to shop with a specialist. Avoid nurseries where the plants aren't clearly or fully identified. Steer clear of nurseries that offer fruit plants only as a sideline. You want people who propagate and ship the plants themselves; they know what they're doing, and this streamlined system also keeps the quality higher and the costs down. Find such companies in the ads in gardening magazines (particularly in the classified ads in the back) or online.

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